Friday, January 15, 2021

[Movie Review] My First Client (2019)

This will not be the usual review, because - honestly - I don't want to go through this trauma again just to write in-depth post. This is rather posted to bring eyes to this movie, in the light of the most recent, tragic events regarding the abuse and death of one little Jeongin.
This is really a harrowing experience, this is why people who cannot stomach the child abuse should not be watching it as the movie gets pretty graphic in its description of the events, especially because the film is based on a true story.

The movie employs three distinctively different color palettes which serve as the emotional indicators of the events. Every scene with Jeong-yeob in the law firm he aspires to join (the movie starts with the all-telling scene of recruitment) is shaded blue. This hints at the environment filled with cold and devoid of a human element. Which is later proved with Jeong-yeob's boss' words that unfortunate kids just have to accept heir unfortunate circumstances. Then there is one used mostly through entire movie, the usual palette. But there is also another - with dimmed, shadowed colors in kids' home after their step-mother appears.

Dabin is 10 and Minjun, her brother is 7 when we meet them. From Dabin's body response towards her father, we can only guess they are raised without much comfort and maybe even abused. Jong-nam, their father, admits in one talk with Jisuk, his new wife, that the kids are mistakes and that he hated his late wife. Jisuk knew her as well, and she says that Dabin starts to resemble the woman which makes her angry. Dabin hears that, but she already knew that at this point.

Jisuk starts to discipline the kids to the point of leaving the bruises, which also makes Dabin to dim - she was usually a cheerful and happy girl, which took care of her brother and they had fun together as well. Whenever Jisuk ties her hair, the kids know there will be beating. 

They turn for help to the center that provides care for children, but in fact, as in bitter words of one of the workers who's leaving the job that Jeong-yeob took over, they are powerless in the face of children's abuse. The police thinks it's an internal matter of the family and doesn't want to interfere. The neighbors rather put up with shouting, thrashing and crying than intervene. And even if the kid is lodging a complaint, after that they still have to return home with their abuser, because that's the law.

This is when the starting casus appears in the movie's plot. The candidates for a spot at the law firm are presented with a case: people are watching a 35-minute long abuse of the woman but no one helps. In the result the woman dies. The question is - are they guilty of her death or not? Same here, all of the neighbors and even the teachers knew about the abuse but did nothing.

And this social inertia leads to a tragedy. In one of her violent attacks, Jisuk kills Minjun by causing the internal rupture of the organs and bleeding. I admit, the swollen and bruised belly of the boy is not for the faint-hearted. But Jisuk is smart - she forces Dabin to take the blame and the girl is arrested as the perpetrator of a horrific crime. Dabin, disillusioned with adults who lied to her and didn't listen to her when she pleaded for help, sinks even more in her despair, not trusting even Jeong-yeob when he comes from Seoul to help her.

The legal battle to imprison Jisuk and Jong-nam starts because Jeong-yeob pleaded with his friends, teachers, police for help so a case could be built. They started also a civil campaign to bring awareness to children's abuse. There is one telling moment in the movie when Dabin comes to the police to fill a complaint against her step-mom and one of the police officers snickers that nowadays kids are so spoiled that they rat out their parents on trifle stuff. And exactly this mindset needs to change, the movie tells - the silent agreement that parents have the absolute power over their kids, that the beating is a form of discipline, that the law cannot interfere in the family affairs. This cluster of reasons made the abuse possible and nonpunishable.
What is important - we learn that the abuse cases skyrocketed from 2001 (below 5 thousand reported cases) to over 35 thousands in 2017. The important bit here is "reported" - this means that from 2001 and 2017 there was a shift in attitude towards the children abuse - it became common to report it as a crime and not sweep it under the carpet as the "family affair". Of course, the real figure is probably higher, but still find it laudable that courageous people report it and seek justice.

I do not want to delve more into the court proceedings, because maybe some people will give this movie a chance and watch it, despite how heavy it is. The actors carried the story to the breaking point, especially Choi Myeong-bin as Dabin, the girl was wonderful in it. Also, nice to see Lee Ro-un here, the little Hong Gildong from The Rebel :) And I think Lee Donghwi is also perfect in this type of roles - as a guy who quietly finds the bravery inside to do something right, despite his slouched shoulders, and grumbling, and reluctance (similar to his role in the KBS DS Red Teacher).

I liked the last scene at the bridge because it can mean so many things. It took place 6 months after the trial ended and it symbolizes Dabin's own position in life - she's moving from a place of trauma and death to the place of healing and growth. And what's better than a bridge to point that transition? 
And this is also a new road for Jeong-yeob who spent his entire adult live dreaming of working at the prestigious law firm in Seoul, and when his dreams finally came true, he left, aghast of the lack of humanity within his own boss.